Thursday, October 30, 2014

65 Years ago at Chadron Prep…

The decade of the 1940's was about to end, leaving behind the devastation of World War II and ushering in a new era of prosperity.  The Great Depression was becoming but a memory. 

In 1949, unemployment was only about 3.8 percent, and you could buy a First Class postage stamp for a mere three cents.  William Faulkner was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but the really big news of the year was the weather.  The New Year blew in with snow, ice, and bitter cold that gripped the northern plains for the first few months of l949.  For Chadron, Nebraska, it was one of the harshest blizzards on record.

Archie Conn
For high school seniors at Chadron Prep, it was a time of reflection — and anticipation — as they grabbed their diplomas and raced toward the 1950's.

The 1949 "Eagle's Tale" summarized the accomplishments of the 28 seniors who graduated that year, and dedicated the yearbook to coach Archie Conn, "who has endeared himself to all of us with his admirable coaching ability, rich personality, and sympathetic understanding of our problems."  

Under coach Conn, the Junior Eagles had completed their most successful basketball season in Prep history and "humbled Chadron High 50-9."  Of course, Prep basketball would move on to even greater glory with state championships in the 1950's.

1949 Senior Class Officers at Prep. Standing are
Bob Garfoot, VP, and Harry Landers, President.
Seated are Carol Doell, Sec., and Helen Goff,
Student Council representative.
In April, the Chadron Prep Junior-Senior Banquet took place at Colacino's Supper Club east of Chadron.  Then the Prom was held at the Women's Recreational Hall.  Music was provided by Bob Folsom's orchestra.

Dr. Wiley Brooks, for whom Brooks Hall was named, was then president of Nebraska State Teacher's College at Chadron.   Commencement took place in the college auditorium on May 26, 1949, and Rev. Carl Spieker of Scottsbluff gave the address, "Youths Adventure."

As was common in yearbooks of the era, the Class of '49 authored a "Class Will," whereby members of the graduating class passed along a variety of legacies to underclassmen.   For example, George Babcock bequeathed "my aptness in making life miserable for the faculty and practice teachers to Danny Kuska."  Leana Finney gave her "quiet charming laugh to Margies Swett," while Bernard Konrath willed his position as "junior executive at the Safeway Grocery to upstart Ted Turpin."  

Ross Armstrong willed his ability "to play hard-to-get to Oelrich's favorite son, Bob Egly."  Armstrong, son of long-time college coach and administrator Ross Armstrong, Sr., would graduate magna cum laude and serve as valedictorian of his class.

Within a dozen or so years, Chadron Prep would cease to exist, but the Prep spirit would survive — and even thrive for more than half a century — and graduates continue to gather annually and celebrate their common bond and experiences as "Junior Eagles."

For more photographs and information, visit our Dawes County Journal Schools Photo Gallery.

Monday, October 6, 2014

One-time Chadron civic leader dies in Minot at 88

Ray David (1925-2014)
Ray David has died.  The 88-year-old combat veteran of World War II passed away last Tuesday (9/30/14) in Minot, North Dakota, where he had been living in recent months as his health declined.

Many Chadron area residents will remember the tall and handsome Ray David and his beautiful wife, Shirley, from their years when Ray came to town to take over as manager of the old Pace Theatre (now The Eagle) in the mid-1950's.

Although his years in Chadron were few, Ray David went on to a successful career in broadcasting and politics.  But what’s really remarkable is how this humble but creative kid, born into an impoverished Kansas farm family  and raised in the Oklahoma panhandle and western Colorado, would pursue life with a passion and fight his way to success.

Dropping out of school after the 8th grade, Ray worked at a variety of jobs in Oklahoma and Colorado, before taking off to California and a short stint as a machinist’s helper in the Mare Island Shipyard at age 16.   By then, World War II was in full swing, and Mare Island was abuzz with ship construction and repairs.  Alas, California law required a waiver from Ray’s parents in order for him to maintain his job – but since his parents lived in Colorado, they could not sign the waiver.

But they could and did later sign a letter approving his underage entry into the Army Air Corps, where he could serve his country and be close to one of his loves – aviation.  But the Army, being the Army, had other ideas, and he ended up in the infantry and was part of the D-Day invasion of coastal France in June 1944.
Most remarkable about his story is the fact that Ray David – wounded both in France on D-Day and six months later at the Battle of the Bulge – could later be so candid about the anguish of losing friends and his own struggles while battling the demons of war,

Many years later, Ray wrote about the war-time experience of meeting up with his old buddy Jack Harp while on sentry duty in the heavily wooded hills on the eastern edge of the Ardennes Forest.

Ray David (right) with a World War II buddy.
The enemy was on top of us before we knew what was going on.  Jack alerted his Company Headquarters on the field phone.  When all the heavy fire power started coming in, Jack was hit in the shoulder and chest.  In agony and pain he jumped up to get back to the medic at his CQ.  He was hit by shrapnel from a phosphate shell; it hit him in the right side of his face and neck,  The burn and wound had to have been excruciating.  Poor Jack tore my field jacket from my shoulder, as I held him trying to apply sulfur power in his wounds and give him a shot of morphine from his medical kit.  All the while he screamed for help from his mother, God, and the medics.  Within a few minutes, he was gone.  I was stunned, absolutely stunned.  I had witnessed other similar situations, but Jack was like a brother.

The next few days were a blank.  I don’t believe anyone can fully grasp the horror and the awful feeling, without actually being in the midst of fear, confusion and the loss of mental focus as the screams, moans and begging for help fill the air leaving an indelible scar on your memory.

Although he survived the war, Ray David's personal life was turned upside down. His wartime  experiences and traumas resulted in electric shock and insulin treatments and “Ice Baths.” Ray’s candor and honesty as he wrote about these incidents in later years is truly moving.

But he pieced his life together into a successful career.  His years with the Black Hills Amusement Company led to a variety of jobs in Rapid City, Newcastle, Hot Springs, and Chadron, where he managed the Pace Theatre and the Starlite Drive-in.  During these years, he married Shirley Wilcox of Hot Springs.
Vehicle for promoting the Starlite Drive-in
In Chadron during the mid-to-late 1950's, Ray became extremely active in promoting the community, helping re-arrange the 9-hole golf course at the Country Club, raising money for the college, and volunteering to do promotional work for the International Parks Highway 385-85.   A few folks may remember Ray sitting atop a 50-foot pole for 11 days to raise money for a new wing at the old Chadron Memorial Hospital.

But his many successes led Ray David away from Chadron to Williston, North Dakota, where he went to work for the Chamber of Commerce for a while.  Then he started a 16-year-career in broadcasting with KEYZ in Williston, which led to ownership of stations in Dickinson as well.  He would later serve on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Broadcasters.  His broadcast ownership allowed him to expand the scope and depth of community promotion. 

Despite his lack of a formal education, Ray also served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of North Dakota-Willison, where he taught Public Speaking and Public Relations.  He served two productive terms as a State Senator in the North Dakota Legislature. 

We had the pleasure of getting reacquainted with Ray David in recent years, exchanging e-mails and sharing stories about broadcasting and Chadron in sometimes rather lengthy telephone calls.  His was a truly remarkable life.
Read more about Ray and his family in this Ray David obituary.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Road from Rushville led to 7 years as pro pitcher

by Larry Miller

It'd been a long time since I'd read an Omaha World-Herald newspaper.  So when I stopped for lunch at Perkins in Lincoln, Nebraska, last Monday (9/1/14), I bought a copy.  Inside, as I sat down and glanced at the front page, I found dessert even before I placed my order!  A photo and story that pulled me back to northwest Nebraska more than half a century ago.

Beneath the fold on the front page of the Monday World-Herald was a picture of Dale Hendrickson, long-time coach and teacher at Morrill, Nebraska.  Sixty years ago, young Dale Hendrickson was a baseball hero to kids all across the panhandle as he launched a seven-year career in pro baseball that brought him a lot of fame — if not fortune.

We remember his stellar mound performances for the Chadron Elks baseball team in 1954 (see photo below) just before he signed a contract with the Milwaukee Braves.   He was all of 17 years old!  But you really need to check out the full World-Herald story.  And don't miss their links to a story about the re-dedication of Modisett Park in Rushville — and a really fun video about the baseball camp and community of Rushville! 

Dale Hendrickson as a left-handed pitchers for the 1954 Chadron Elks —  and 60 years later at Hendrickson Field in Morrill where he was Athletic Director for some 25 years.

Hendrickson was also a standout basketball player at Chadron State College. Despite having to cut short a couple of seasons in order to fulfill his baseball commitments, he amassed 860 career points, according to Con Marshall.  Hendrickson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1960 and went in to education after he left pro baseball in 1961.  He's married to Gayle Babue of Chadron, whose father, Paul, will long be remembered as President of the old Chadron Sports Club (We still long for a return of the ball caps like the one Dale is wearing above in his Chadron Elks uniform!).

In 1993, Dale Hendrickson was inducted into the Chadron State College Athletic Hall of Fame.  And that's really quite an honor, one of many in his career.

But for all of us young baseball players of the 1950's —whose aspirations were to be "big league ball players" — Dale Hendrickson's achievements were inspiring and indelible.  We've never forgotten them.  And Modisett Ball Park in Rushville helped launch the Dale Hendrickson adventure (See more about Modisett Ball Park below). 

Did we tell you that he struck out Mickey Mantle?  And "Moose" Skowron?  And Tony Kubek?  And "Yogi" Berra? And…


Monday, July 21, 2014

George C. Snow - newspaperman and legislator

The Chadron Record newspaper has been around for a long time.  Originally known as the Dawes County Journal (that does have a familiar ring to it!) the paper was founded by E. E. (Ed) Egan shortly after he arrived in Chadron back in 1884.

Of course, lots of other folks ran the newspaper over the years, including Maurice Van Newkirk, Don Huls, and many others.  But this time we offer you a bit about George C. Snow, the fellow who bought the old Journal newspaper from Ed Egan, and who probably had as distinguished career as any of the green eyeshade folks. 

George C. Snow
A native of Illinois, Snow served as publisher and editor of the paper for many years.  He is mentioned several times in the Chadron Centennial History published in 1985. We found this photo and the following biographical sketch in the 1921 publication History of Western Nebraska and Its People.  

Edited by Grant Shumway of Scottsbluff, it includes biographies, photos, and additional information about people and places in 11 panhandle counties.  It reads...

GEORGE C. SNOW, editor and proprietor of the Chadron Journal, and a member of the Nebraska State Legislature, worthily occupies a position of great prominence in the state. He has been the recipient of many honors, both political and personal, in his long career, and his fellow citizens have frequently testified to their sincere esteem. Many have known him longest and best in the field of journalism, for Mr. Snow is the oldest editor, in point of service, in this part of the country.

George C. Snow was born in De Kalb county, Illinois, March 5, 1874. His parents are Rev. Beecher O. and Stella (Lyon) Snow, natives of New York, born in 1853 and 1854 respectively. They now reside at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the father being a retired minister of the Congregational church, for twenty years having served as Home Missionary Pastor for Nebraska. Of his four children, George C. is the only one living at Chadron. At Franklin Academy and Doane College in Nebraska, Mr. Snow pursued his studies until early manhood, then accepted the superintendency of a Congregational academy at Snohomish, Washington; going from there to Eureka, Kansas, and then came to Chadron, Nebraska.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A birds-eye view of Crawford 75 years ago

We like this aerial photo of Crawford, Nebraska.  It was taken by long-time Dawes County pilot Frank Snook back in 1939.  They may not have had Wyoming coal trains every half-hour or so, but the railroad was even then an important part of the community -- as depicted here.  Thanks to Miz Mizner for sharing this photo.  Read a bit more about the early days of Crawford.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cheering on Chadron Prep!

These young ladies were cheerleaders for Chadron Prep teams back in 1952.  Left-to-right are Dorcas Tlustos, Joy Dean Fox, and Helen Laue.  Chadron Prep had lots to cheer about back in those days.  While the high school has been closed since 1961, Prep was a basketball powerhouse back in the 1950's under Coach Archie Conn -- winning three state championships.  When Prep alumni gather this month for their annual reunion, few of them will be able to appreciate the history of the school any more than Jim Butler, the 95-year-old "Junior Eagle" who graduated in 1936. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Long-time musician Russ Garner dies at 82

(Editor's Note:  Russ Garner, a long-time resident of Dawes County, passed away on June 22, 2014.  Garner was well-known throughout the region, remembered best for his work as a country and western singer.  Our friend Con Marshall was kind enough to pass along a story he did about Russ Garner back in 2009, which we share with you below.)


Russ Garner
Russ Garner says he was just three years old when he knew what he wanted to do in life. He wanted to be a country and western singer. The inspiration came after he’d listened to records played on his grandparents’ Victrola and to Grand Old Opry late at night on their radio.

More than 70 years later, Garner is still living that dream, much to the enjoyment of scores of admirers throughout the region. For generations, anyone who liked country and western music has wanted to hear Garner’s rich bass voice and his expert guitar strumming.

“I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do and have enjoyed every minute of it,” said Garner during an interview in February. “As long as I can do it and do it right, I plan to keep doing it. I don’t have any plans to retire.”

Long-time fans, some of whom have listened to him for more than 50 years, say there’s been no decline in Garner’s performances, even though he was forced to  take a couple of breaks from his career.

“He has a smooth, rich sound. His voice is as good as ever,” said Cleone Hoyda of Crawford, who has frequently played the keyboard and provided vocal support when Garner performed. “Music just flows out of him.

“He’s a hometown boy who made good. He’s very professional. He won’t sing a song until he gets it to perfection. He’s put Crawford on the map as far as music is concerned and it’s never gone to his head. He’s just Russ,” Hoyda continued.

Garner was born on Feb. 20, 1932 in Alliance while his parents, Russ and Minnie, were living in a dugout on Trunk Butte Creek, about six miles southeast of Whitney. When he was 8, his mother gave him a setting hen. After the chicks were grown, he sold them and bought his first guitar and an instruction book for $10.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sleuthing to find the homes of "lost treasures"

 It doesn't take long for anyone who has dabbled in family history, not just those who call themselves genealogists, to discover "brick walls."  When no matter what you do, you're unable to solve a particular problem -- whether it's determining a relationship, a date/place of death, or any of a long line of challenges.  You're stumped, and that's all there is to it.  Welcome to the "Brick Wall."

About four years ago, we wrote a story about Chadron natives Skip and Bev (Urwin) Umshler, shown here above.   It touched upon Skip's remarkable personal achievements after what some might call a "mis-spent youth" that lingered into the early years of their marriage.  To be sure, those achievements belong to both Skip and Bev -- but we tended to focus a bit on Skip.  His "Husker Room" alone was pretty amazing.  Anyone who's cheered for the Nebraska Cornhuskers over the years can't help but be blown away by Nebraska memorabilia in the upstairs of the Umshler home just outside of Mount Vernon, Missouri. We also made note of Skip's venture into poetry.

And, yes, we also mentioned Skip's strategic diversion into the world of metal detecting.  Now comes "the rest of that story...."

Not surprisingly, the enormous inventory of coins, rings, pins, and other artifacts Skip uncovered with his detector while traversing his territory as a traveling salesman is like a vault of  memories.  Each item has a story.

Skip was the collector of these items.  And now computer-savvy spouse Bev has taken the lead in finding some of the stories that go with them.  More specifically, she and Skip are trying to find happy endings for some of the many personal articles that he's found since first taking up metal detecting more than 40 years ago.  And they've met with considerable success.

One of the more recent "happy endings" was well documented by a writer for the Villisca (Iowa) Review named Linda Artlip Weinstein, a 1966 graduate of Villisca High School, who has kindly shared her report with us.  It describes the story of fellow graduate John Fengel, who lost his class ring eons ago, and most likely had given up hope of ever seeing it again.  But -- some 50 years after Fengel lost the ring -- Bev and Skip Umshler have helped tear down that brick wall, find the ring, and solve the mystery of what happened to John Fengel's ring.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Billy the Bear" Iaeger -- a Chadron legend

by Larry Miller
Louis John "Fred" Iaeger
"Billy the Bear"

Cow puncher, horse trader, riverboat captain, sea-going sailor and one-time secretary and friend to the legendary Buffalo Bill Cody.   Add to that Postmaster and Police Judge, and you’ve hit a few of the high points in the life of  “Billy the Bear” Iaeger, one of Chadron’s most famous citizens of yesteryear.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1856, Louis John Frederick Iaeger would become one of the “prosperous and prominent citizens of Dawes county, Nebraska.” Young Iaeger was just five years old after his father died in an accident; then his mother died the following year.  So, “at the tender age of six was sent, via Central America, to California, where he was raised by his father’s brother in Yuma, California….

The Iaeger story is chronicled within a book of biographies entitled Reminiscence and Biography of Western Nebraska.  It is utterly fascinating.  Stories told between the covers of this publication – and other similar biographical books from that era – are likely to generate a bit of skepticism among many readers.  As with many of today’s paid newspaper obituaries, those old biographies were sometimes penned by a family member.  It was not uncommon for subjects to submit their own manuscript, which was “smoothed over” by an editor.

A young "Billy the Bear" Iaeger
Nonetheless, those publications often have become valuable, particularly if there are few or no other documents or “paper trails” left by the subject.

Fortunately, in Iaeger’s instance, there are numerous other sources that share tidbits of his many pursuits – and they all piece together a story about a fellow who truly  had a remarkable life.  From making a “wagon full of money  to becoming penniless, his was a life filled with adventure – and many challenges.

He gained theatrical experience on stage at the San Francisco Opera House in the 1870's, which led to an engagement with the Buffalo Bill Combination Company as it toured California.  He portrayed a bear in the play "Red Right Hand."  That successful tour also branded Iaeger with a new nickname:  Billy the Bear.

After transitioning to ranching, Iaeger found himself hop-scotching to several locations in the heartland -- including Wyoming.  It was as the result of  the horrendous Wyoming Blizzard  of 1883 that he lost his feet and fingers.  After recuperating at the hospital in Laramie – and then outfitted with artificial limbs – Iaeger settled in Chadron. Again, his list of accomplishments began to grow, despite his “infirmities.”  

Iaeger (left) with Sheriff James Dahlman
For all of his many endeavors, perhaps Iaeger is best remembered for helping organize the famous Chadron to Chicago Cowboy Race  in 1893. But we think his earlier dramatic experience may have led to an association with one of the earliest film dramas about the legendary Wild Bill Hickok.  It was filmed near Chadron.  While we've not yet seen documentation that supports that contention, we do know that his son, Richard, played a role in the early film.  The story of “Billy the Bear” Iaeger and his many diverse experiences is, indeed, mesmerizing. 

While we don't pretend to have great knowledge of the Iaeger family genealogy, we believe a few folks around Chadron will remember long-time educator and one-time county sheriff, Jim Butler.  Our sources indicate that Butler married Madeline Iaeger -- a 1935 graduate of CHS who was Billy the Bear's granddaughter -- before the onset of World War II.  She died of pneumonia in 1943.   

Another Chadron family -- the Kindigs -- also had ties to the Iager's.  Karen (Kindig) Schlais tells us that her mother's sister, Elizabeth Larsen, was married to Richard Iaeger.  He was the younger son of "Billy the Bear."

If you want to learn more about Louis J. F. Iaeger, a good place to start is Reminiscence and Biography of Western Nebraska, published in 1909 by the Alden Publishing Company of Chicago.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Long-time "Old School" educator stirs memories

by Larry Miller

It was 1927, and Gutzon Borglum had just started his famous Mount Rushmore carvings of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.  Henry Ford unveiled his new Model A motor car to replace the old Model T, while Charles Lindbergh – the Lone Eagle – was airborne, making the first non-stop, solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane.

Young "Schoolmarm" Cleo Bigelow
It was also the year that a young lady out of Sioux County Nebraska took over as Principal of the East Ward School in Chadron.

Cleo Bigelow was a 35-year-old teacher with 13 years of elementary classroom teaching, and she was no stranger to small town rural lifestyle that dominates western Nebraska.  Her teaching would eventually touch the lives of thousands of west Nebraska schoolchildren, and she would become a recognized leader in several education and professional organizations.

Born in 1892 on a ranch northwest of Harrison, Cleo was the fifth child of Eugene and Elizabeth Bigelow.  As was fairly common, the ranch family bought a small house in town so it would be more convenient for the kids to go to school.   When Cleo finished her Junior year, she had to go to  Alliance to complete her high school education, since the school at Harrison had not yet added a Senior year.  Fortunately, her older sister Mabel was teaching in Alliance, and young Cleo lived with her.

Years later, Cleo’s niece, Lois Putnam, wrote that after Cleo finished high school, she “…returned to the ranch and planned to stay there to help her father.  Her plans were changed when a newly organized school district just west of the ranch needed a teacher.  She told them she wasn’t qualified, but the board went to town and got permission from the County Superintendent for her to teach their school.

District 46, the “Dunn School” as it was known, wasn’t far from the Wyoming border, and that’s where Cleo taught in 1915-1916, moving to the Davis School, District 85, the following year, and then to the Lacy School, District 34,  just a mile west of the Bigelow ranch.  She was there for five years.

By 1922, older sister Mabel Davis and her husband, Neal, were living in Chadron, and Cleo enrolled in summer school at Chadron Normal with plans to earn a teaching certificate and return to Sioux County to teach.  But she was offered a teaching job at the West Ward elementary school in Chadron, and she accepted it. 

It was in 1924 that Cleo Bigelow began her career with the Chadron Public Schools -- the same year that a studious-looking young lad named James Myers graduated from Chadron High.  The bespectacled Myers went on to get a diploma from the Chadron Normal School in 1928 and immediately went to work teaching at Chadron High School.  Both Bigelow and Myers were destined to have long tenures within the Chadron school system.

Cleo was at West Ward for four years before moving to East Ward School, which was housed with the Junior and Senior High School programs in the three-story brick building at 6th and Ann Street.  In addition to teaching Kindergarten, Bigelow served as Principal.  In subsequent years, she would teach sixth grade and then fourth grade.

Cleo Bigelow -- much as we remember her
Even with administrative responsibilities as principal, teaching was never a lucrative career.  After 16 years, 47-year-old Cleo Bigelow’s annual income was shy of $1,300 a year.

It was as fourth grade teacher that this writer remembers Cleo Bigelow.  I was in the third grade, and I still recall hoping that Miss Bigelow might retire before I reached fourth grade.  Not that there was necessarily anything wrong with Miss Bigelow, it was just that she was…….well, strict.  In those years, hard as it may be to comprehend these days, school principals were to be respected – and for many of us – feared.  To be sure, she was “old school.”

Many of us who tried to keep below the radar and  avoid being noticed by Miss Bigelow remember the "Friday morning Sings" in the old auditorium.  There, waving her ruler as a baton, she would lead us all in a bit of culture as we raised our voices to sing songs like "Down in the Valley, " "Stodola-Pump," and a few patriotic numbers like "Anchors Aweigh!"

One East Warder from that era later perceived that elementary principal Cleo Bigelow and high school principal Jim Myers seemed to share the same philosophy: “spare the rod and spoil the child!”  Another student recalls how Miss Bigelow would tote her ruler and occasionally snap it across the hands or fingers of idle students she thought weren’t paying attention.

Such was the experience of Jack Castek, who recalls one day in 1952,  "While we were reading a book -- the student reading out loud was going very slowly -- so I started reading ahead.  Miss Bigelow came alongside me, noticed that I was not following along, and she whacked me alongside the head with a ruler."  Castek remembered Miss Bigelow as "fair but hard-nosed."

One CHS 1960 graduate – an East Ward alum whose father was on the school board – says he remembers hearing that Cleo Bigelow was one of Superintendent H. A. Schroeder’s favorite teachers. “She had a lot of ideas that she would share with Heine Schroeder, who was inclined to adopt them.  And Cleo would never claim credit for them.”  He surmised that she was a pretty smart cookie.

H.A. Schroeder
Another East Ward student whose father also was on the school board back in those days recalls getting whopped alongside the head with a ruler, resulting in a pair of broken glasses.  Although Miss Bigelow ended up apologizing in front of the class, "My dad was as mad as a hornet," she remembers.

Superintendent Schroeder's daughter, Susan Schroeder Lundborg, doesn't remember Miss Bigelow as necessarily being one of her father's favorites, but she does recall that her mother, Opal, was good friends with Bigelow.  "Lorraine (Shaw) and I were best friends, talked a lot to each other, sometimes in class.  Miss Bigelow separated us...those multiplication tables were taught by Miss Bigelow and stayed with me through the years." Lorraine (Shaw) MacDonald remembered Bigelow as being "a very firm teacher who was much harder on the students who needed more assistance."

One might believe she was challenging them to do better.

Amazingly, this writer and many other youngsters who were students of Cleo Bigelow’s, managed to not only survive fourth grade at East Ward, but actually thrive in succeeding years. She had done her job, but it certainly seemed she wasn’t trying to win any popularity contest with her students.  She did, however, continue to maintain a strong relationship with her family and her Sioux County roots.

 Cleo returned to Harrison each summer to be with her parents, always spending one day a week at the ranch of her brother, Lee, cleaning house and getting a meal for the ‘boys,’ Lee and his long-time hired man, Adrian Smith.  She was always available to cook for the branding and threshing crews,” wrote Lois Putnam many years later.

After the passing of her parents, she spent summer and winter vacations on the ranch with Lee and Adrian and became their “live-in” housekeeper after her retirement and until Lee’s death in 1965.  After his death Cleo returned to Chadron and her apartment in her sister’s home.”

Her role changed significantly in May 1959, when she retired from teaching.  She was 67 years old and had spent nearly two-thirds of her life as a teacher.

Celebrating 90 Years
School kids, of course, usually see their teachers in the sole capacity of teacher.  Heaven forbid teachers should have a life outside the classroom!

Cleo Bigelow reportedly enjoyed traveling and was involved with Friends of the Library and Republican Women, among others.   And for Cleo, her roots in Sioux County remained strong and durable.

Active in several professional and community organizations, she was a charter member of the Chadron Business and Professional Women and a life member of the Nebraska Congress of Parents and Teachers.  While she was active in the Methodist Church and the Women’s Society, it was with the Woodbine Rebekah Lodge of Harrison that kept Cleo active for more than 70 years.  She held many offices in the lodge and in 1953 she was honored with the Rebekah Degree of Chivalry – the same honor once afforded her mother, Elizabeth Bigelow.

In September 1982, Cleo Bigelow celebrated her 90th birthday.   She would live another six years, but she endured growing difficulties with glaucoma and lost her vision.  Long-time neighbors Bob and Therese Hinman took Cleo into their home and cared for her in the final few years of her life.  She died in their Lake Street home on June 9, 1988.  She was 95 years old.
(Our thanks to Sue Willey of Harrison, NE and Mary Willnerd of Spearfish, SD for their assistance with this story)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Old school photos arrive with Spring!

by Larry Miller

It's always a treat when an unexpected treasure falls in to your lap!  And that was our reaction this week when former Chadron resident Doug Wilson sent us a few old school pictures from Chadron Prep and East Ward Elementary.

Below is one of the photos, and it's a gem.  We're working to add the names of the youngsters who are "Unidentified" in the picture, which captured the East Ward Third Graders of 1945-46.

"The teacher was Mrs. Smith," wrote Wilson, who now lives in Lincoln.

"I thought she was a great person -- as did the majority of other students in her class."

We've posted a higher resolution version of this photo -- and others -- in our DCJ School Photo Gallery.  That version also identifies most of the dapperly-dressed youngsters in this post World War II gem.

As one afflicted -- or blessed -- with left-handedness, I was also intrigued by this classroom flashback offered by Doug Wilson.

"During third grade, we learned to write cursively rather than only print.  This involved another teacher, Miss Douglas, who taught cursive writing using the Palmer Method of penmanship.  Across the front of the room above the blackboard were a series of large cardboard strips bearing the letters of the alphabet -- both small and capital letters -- in the form we were to learn how to perform."

"Although Miss Douglas did not require "lefties" to write with their right hands, she did require that they not use the "curled" or "write from above" technique that many left-handed people use."

"While I was right-handed," Wilson reminisced, "I had my hand slapped with a ruler several times because I did not write with my wrist flat on the piece of paper.  I had, and still have, the habit of writing with the side of my hand resting on the paper.  My current handwriting is a mix of print and cursive -- a style that has served me well for almost 70 years."

Chadron High students from the early '60s may remember Wilson's wife, Lois Puckett, who taught Home Economics.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Girls basketball prohibited in Nebraska

Shown here are members of the 1927 Chadron High School girls' basketball team as they were featured in the CHS "Milestone" yearbook of 1928.  The caption noted that their final season "…was very successful, inasmuch as this was the last time a girls' basketball team would represent the C.H.S. at any contest…in January 1927 the state board of athletics made the ruling that after the close of the present season, girls' basketball would be prohibited within Nebraska."  These girls, who were not identified, made one long trip into "the wilds of Wyoming and were defeated in three out of four successive games."  Nonetheless, this team was a contender for Western Nebraska Championship, which they lost to Harrison.

Although it took more than half a century, girls basketball came back to the Cornhusker State -- with a vengeance!  And during the 2013-14 season two Dawes County girls' teams made it to Lincoln for the state tournament.  Although the Chadron High Lady Cardinals lost to the Pierce girls, they could take solace in the fact that Pierce went on to win the state championship for the second year in a row.  And the girls from Crawford High School also made the trip to Lincoln, losing to Giltner 58-39.  By all accounts, the Lady Rams may back in contention again next year, since they'll lose only one of their players.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

This Is What It Looks Like at the Center of America

Daughter Jill Miller first alerted us last December about a wonderful collection of online photographs of the American heartland.  New York-based photographer Andrew Moore did a splendid job of capturing these images for an exhibit dubbed "Dirt Meridian," which opened last month (January 2014) at the Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York City.  We viewed the photos, appreciated them a bit, then promptly forgot about them -- until friend Mike Smith reminded us again this week, not only of the photos, but about the story that accompanied them online.

The Murray House in Sheridan County, Nebraska (2013) - New York Times Magazine
The collection contains numerous images that were taken in the area along the 100th Meridian in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.  Most were captured west of the meridian, and all of them are truly remarkable.  A portion of photographs included in the exhibit can be found at this link to the New York Times Magazine, which begins with a photo of an 1890 Sheridan County homestead.  And there are plenty of Dawes County shots, too.

We've also linked to the story that accompanied the photos.  It was written by Inara Verzemnieks of Iowa City, Iowa, and is entitled "Life Along the 100th Meridian."  

And thanks Jill and Mike for the heads up on the photos!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A few notes about Chadron newspaperman Don Huls

by Larry Miller

Those of us who are a bit more fickle about the weather than most folks sometimes find it desirable to escape southward during winter -- for at least a few weeks.

So when Karen and I packed for Arizona in late December, I grabbed a stack of old Chadron Record newspapers to read the "breaking news" from the 20th century -- some of them from 1959 when our town was battling with Frontier Airlines over their twice daily flights in to DCI (my favorite moniker for Dawes County International just west of Chadron.)

It's likely the November 20th front page story "State Seeks Early Hearing on Airline" was written by Don Huls, Editor and Publisher of the twice-weekly paper, for which subscribers paid 15 cents each.  A yearly subscription would set you back $3.50.  While there were lots of outstanding reporters who worked for the paper during those years -- including folks like Ted Turpin, Bob Bishop, John DeHaes and Con Marshall -- the abiding column that remains indelibly imprinted in my mind was "The Dude," in which Huls would ruminate about everything from the weather and local politics to social affairs and sporting events.  

I chuckled when I read about the November 1960 Chadron High-Crawford High football game at which "The Dude" (always a third-person guy) saw something "...that he hasn't seen in many years. After Crawford scored its touchdown in the second period, a Crawford player by the name of Dick Smith dropped back for the extra point attempt and durned if he didn't drop-kick that ball right between the uprights for the extra point."  Huls reminisced that, as a youngster, he saw the legendary Jim Thorpe drop-kick a football from one end of the field to the other as a half-time demonstration at the old Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas.

A young Don Huls at KU
Lawrence was Don Huls' hometown.  And it was there that he began his love-affair with journalism, pledging the SDX (Sigma Delta Chi) journalism society while reporting and selling ads for the University of Kansas school paper.  He was a good-looking "Dude," too, as evidenced by this photo. 

I first knew of Don Huls when his family moved from Ottawa, Kansas to Chadron in 1957, when he took over operation of the Chadron Record. His wife, Frances, was co-publisher, and would also teach social studies at Chadron High School.  Their children were F.D., Cyndi, and David.  

Although I don't remember for which class it was, I do recall Don Huls coming to Chadron High School one day in the late 1950's to share his experiences as a Naval Intelligence officer in World War II. He had witnessed the aftermath and the horrific consequences of the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 

Huls remained a staunch fan of Kansas University and was known to attempt recruiting a few area football players to try their hands at being Jayhawks.

All of these memories, and a few others that have blurred over time, came rushing back when I saw the online story that the Chadron Record is celebrating 130 years during 2014.  The Record and its predecessors date back to 1884, when Ed Egan settled along Chadron Creek and began his modest newspaper named the Sioux County Journal.  Later known as the Dawes County Journal (our apologies for lifting that old name for this web site) and later the Chadron Journal.

Those were the years when Egan was at odds with the remarkable Fannie O'Linn, who fought hard to maintain the name "O'Linn" as the official name of the town -- even persuading the postal service to adopt the name for the official post office.  Egan, however, "continued to publish his newspaper from 'Chadron,' which met with vigorous opposition from the good Mrs. O'Linn."  And we know who eventually won the fracas.

That's one of the many stories recounted in the Chadron, Nebraska Centennial History (1885-1985), and we suspect that Don Huls -- as one of its authors -- had a hand in that story, too. 

Read Chadron Record celebrating 130 years by  editor Kerri Rempp.